Since they stole the show as virtual unknowns at the Woodstock festival in 1969 with a stage-shaking delivery of Soul Sacrifice, Santana – and in particularly guitarist Carlos Santana, the group’s only ever-present member – have travelled a remarkably varied musical path over the past 45 years, on more than 20 studio albums that between them have collected a raft of gold and platinum awards.
After bursting onto the scene with the glorious and irresistibly rhythmic Afro-Latin rock hybrid of their first three albums, Santana (with numerous, ever-changing line-ups) have variously dabbled in soul, blues, jazz and rock in various permutations, without ever fully jettisoning the signature Latin feel that has percolated through it all.
There have been blips, of course, not least 2010’s ill-advised and frankly awful covers album Guitar Heaven (effectively a Carlos Santana solo project), and some albums were good but held little interest for rock fans, but the majority of releases have in one way or another deserved some merit.
Now, 45 years after they began to spread their wings musically and started to drift away from the sounds they started off with, which began with fourth album Caravanserai, Carlos has returned to the source. For new album Santana IV he has reunited most of the musicians from those first three albums – Journey pair Neal Schon (guitar) and Gregg Rolie (keyboards/vocals), drummer Michael Shrieve and percussionist Michael Carabello – and recorded 16 tracks that together pick up the story where Santana III left off.
Opener Yambu and guitar-stuffed, percussion-packed belter Shake It immediately resurrect the sounds and smells of Santana III. Anywhere You Want To Go revisits the rhythm and style of III’s Guajira, with a rough-edged Hammond solo that might easily be an alternative take from Abraxas’s Oye Como Va. Downbeat instrumental Suenos shares some DNA with their 1974 hit Samba Pa Ti.
Keeping with the successfully retro vibe, even some of the lyrics make you wonder whether songs such as Love Makes The World Go Round and Freedom In Your Mind – both of which are full of late-60s guff about changing the world by bringing and spreading peace – really are new or whether they were written 40-odd years ago.
Fans of Santana’s first trio of albums have wished for this project to happen for years. Now it’s here, most are likely to be very pleasantly surprised by how successfully it’s been done.
FINAL VERDICT: 7⁄10